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If there’s one thing Amazon wants you to know heading into this year’s Prime Day, it’s that it is good for small businesses. In a press briefing on Tuesday, the company announced that Prime Day 2021 will occur over June 21-22, thereby ushering in this summer of renewed American optimism with a gold rush of discounted online delights.
The virtual media event reiterated Prime Day’s traditional appeal — the requisite millions of deals from 30,000-plus sellers, including the gamut of name brands, across the site’s product categories — but mostly advocated for the company’s relationships with small- and medium-sized vendors. Keri Cusick, who was named Amazon’s Head of Small Business Empowerment last May, along with Amazon Prime Vice President Jamil Ghani, shared a slew of initiatives meant to amplify mom-and-pop sellers: a $10 Prime Day credit for customers who spend $10 on select small businesses between June 7-20; an additional 10% discount when using their Amazon Rewards Visa Card or Amazon Prime Store Card while shopping small businesses; and a sweeping investment of $100 million in affording small businesses greater visibility and accessibility via the Support Small campaign.
Cusick also segued into a three-way interview moderated by actress Kristen Bell featuring two small-business owners who Bell and fellow celebs Mindy Kaling and Karamo Brown handpicked as worthy of Prime Day love: Pawstruck (Bell’s choice) and Live By Being (Kaling’s).
Kennedy Lowery of Live By Being is a Mindy Kaling favorite being promoted for Prime Day.
Image Credit: Amazon
The emphasis on Amazon as a benevolent force for small-business good is no accident. Jeff Bezos’ ecommerce goliath has come under scrutiny for a host of perceived transgressions over the past year, from aggressive anti-competitive practices to astronomical growth amid the pandemic as thousands of tinier storefronts shuttered. The effort to position Prime Day 2021 as essential to small-business owners’ recovery is something of a tacit mea culpa but also inarguably good PR. And could, in fact, be good for internet-savvy entrepreneurs’ bottom line.
Bell definitely believes that’s the case, or at least that’s the impression we came away with from a one-on-one chat following the media event’s conclusion. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
You’ve launched a startup business yourself, Hello Bello, and partnered with a major retailer in Walmart. Was the idea of taking part in Amazon’s Support Small efforts to provide a comparable platform for worthy products in search of a mass market?
Yeah. I mean, I’m a big fan of people’s creative ideas turning into something, and supporting small businesses has always been something I’ve tried to do in my daily life. But being a part of a few small businesses, I understand the infrastructure challenges. When you only have five to 10 people working for you, shipping is really hard, and that is where Amazon has, for lack of a better phrase, got it on lock. Especially during the pandemic, they were a lifeline for a lot of these small businesses because shipping is difficult in the fast-paced, immediate-gratification lifestyle we all live in now.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I should be screaming from the rooftops how to find these small businesses on this site and drive customers to them. I think sometimes people don’t necessarily realize that more than half of the products purchased on Amazon are sold by small- or medium-businesses. And that helps a lot of people keep a lot of jobs.
So while there’s a growing perception that Amazon can be hostile or anticompetitive for smaller businesses, is it your opinion that it’s an ultimate force for good if it spotlights these businesses? And that businesses need to know how to make Amazon work for them?
Yeah. I wanted to be a part of putting a spotlight on these businesses, because here’s the hard truth: You can say whatever you want about Amazon and big businesses. My goal is to try to help small businesses succeed, because in capitalism and this immediate-gratification world, it is important to people to receive the product that they want within a few days, and it’s eally hard to get around that. Your product could be amazing, but if your shipping isn’t what the customer wants, you’re at risk of them moving on, and I don’t want to see that.
So if anyone has a better idea, I’d love to hear it, but I think Amazon does pretty a darn good job of getting products to people. That is a service that is required by small- and medium-sized businesses. The partnership is necessary, and my goal is to help people realize how many small businesses you can find on Amazon. And you’re not sacrificing any customer satisfaction whatsoever. You’re getting to support your local communities, these small businesses, these startups, these old family-run businesses. And the time in which you receive the product is also something that works for you as a customer.
Amazon isn’t the first company you’ve partnered with or, along with your husband Dax Shepard, had an endorsement deal with. What kind of due diligence do you perform before going all-in?
I try to keep a very well-rounded vetting process. It’s never just one thing. My husband and I, when we make decisions together, we’re a great team because we always have opposing opinions. The decision always is driven down the middle. In any venture I’ve been a part of, it’s always been about the quality of the product and the accessibility for the customer, and you cannot sacrifice either one. You have to figure out how to make both work. So with businesses that I’ve chosen to highlight here, I love them and think every single one has amazing quality, and I’ve actually often used all of them for quite some time.
I imagine choosing which small businesses to highlight was a bit like choosing your favorite children.
I wanted to highlight some black-owned businesses. I wanted some female-owned businesses, and then I also wanted things that I actually use. We go camping a ton, and we are often using these amazing sort of fold-up lanterns that are called LuminAid, so that was one of the ones that I found that’s both female and minority-owned. And Pawstruck is another business that we love because the dog treats are completely natural ingredients and our dogs love them, and the owner, Kyle Goguen, is just an amazing guy. Or Kanda chocolates was another one that we chose, which is this awesome premium chocolate company that’s black and female-owned. I wanted to choose diverse owners and diverse products.
As a consumer, has that kind of diversity always been top of mind for you, or has it been more of a growing awareness?
I’m going to be very honest and say it’s definitely grown for me. I felt like it was always important to me, and in our social education over the last few years, I now realize that I really do vote with my dollars, and I want to put a fair amount of those dollars into black-owned businesses and female-owned businesses. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to support something if it’s amazing if it’s not female- or black-owned, but it is going to be a very high priority for me.
And have these small-businesses owners themselves remarked to you that, while the intimacy of doing everything yourself is nice, it really does come down to the ease of getting products to people?
A hundred percent. In fact, [the owners of Pawstruck and Live By Being and I] talked a fair amount offline after the taped interview, and both of them said they do five to seven times their sales surrounding Prime Day because of the drive that Amazon puts into small businesses around Prime Day.
And they are still allowed, even in this ecommerce world, to answer fun letters or any sort of support that comes through customers through Amazon. They’re still responding. It doesn’t just go into this blank space. They still run their businesses like small-business owners. But the effort that Amazon is putting into helping these small businesses has been incredible for them, and their businesses actually both grew a little bit, even though it was wonky in the beginning of the pandemic because nobody knew how to handle Earth for the first few months. It was pivot fatigue. And Prime Days specifically drive so much business, and Amazon is intent on driving them more towards small business. That’s what this whole campaign is about.
Check back with Entrepreneur.com in the coming days for a deeper look into Amazon’s efforts to ally with the small-business community.